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Common Meter

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I learned from Achewood that since this poem is in ballad meter, it can be sung to the tune of Gilligan's Island. Since then, try as I might, I haven't ONCE been able to read it normally.

When songs are sung or verse is read,
It's often hard to miss
A rhythm that sticks in your head
(The one that sounds like this).

One line has four iambic feet.note 
The next has only three.
And then the pattern will repeat
And rhyme, as you can see.

This meter, as its name implies,
Is commoner than bread.
Internal rhymes are used sometimes,
And some rhymes are stilt-ED.

Since common meter texts abound,
Tune-swapping is a breeze.
You'll see examples float around,
Including these and these.

Why swap the tunes? To breathe new use
Into some faded verse,
Or just for fun, as an excuse
To joke, or mock, or worse.

In short, you'll surely have to own
That nothing could be sweeter
Than that poetic rhythm known
As Common (Ballad) Meter.

The terms "Common Meter" and "Ballad Meter" are often used interchangeably; technically, the difference is that in Ballad Meter the first and third lines don't have to rhyme. If you put two Common Meter stanzas together, you get one stanza of Common Meter Double; in hymnbooks and similar places, these terms are often abbreviated CM and CMD, respectively.

Please note that "Common Meter" means a specific poetic meter (the one used in the poem above), not two songs that have a meter in common. You're thinking of a different trope, To the Tune of.... That said, singing one song to the tune of another because they're both in Common Meter is itself a popular game, as the poem above implies, so there's a whole section here of instances when Common-Meter tunes have been swapped.

Also, no need to confuse this trope with Common Time. A tune can scan to Common Meter, be in Common Time, neither, or both.


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    Songs in Common Meter 
  • "Amazing Grace"
  • "The Ballad of Gilligan's Isle"
  • Parts of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" (the verses, but not the chorus) and "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing"
  • Parts of "Manticore" by Ninja Sex Party (not the bridge)
  • "The House of the Rising Sun"
  • Robert A. Heinlein's The Green Hills of Earth
  • "America The Beautiful"
  • "Semper Paratus", the marching song of the United States Coast Guard
  • The United States Marine hymn "From the Halls of Montezuma"
  • Many military running cadences
  • Many Christmas carols, such as:
    • "Joy to the World", although several lines are repeated
    • "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear"
    • "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night"
  • "There Is a Green Hill Far Away"
  • Lots of Emily Dickinson poems (e.g. "Because I Could Not Stop For Death")
  • Most of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
  • Richard Lovelace's To Althea, from Prison ("Stone walls do not a prison make / Nor iron bars a cage")
  • Hoedown!
    • The music from Irish Drinking Song
  • The Australian national anthem
  • "Working Class Man"
  • Infamous Filk Song "Banned from Argo"; it's been noted how many songs scan to it.
  • "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing", one of Charles Wesley's many hymns
  • "The Little Snicket Lad"
  • "The Yellow Rose of Texas"
  • The writer of the webcomic Everyday Heroes likes to start new chapters with a bit of allegedly humorous verse, done in Common Meter. Examples can be found here, here, here, and here.
  • "Johnson's Motor Car"
  • Parts of "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town" by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition fit this meter ("You've painted up your lips and rolled in curls your tinted hair/Ruby, are you contemplating going out somewhere?")
  • Several Child Ballads, including:
    • "Tam Lin"
    • "The Maid Freed from the Gallows" as performed by Tim Erikson
    • "Willie O Winsbury"
  • "Knoxville Girl," an American Murder Ballad
  • The verses of "The Last Saskatchewan Pirate" by The Arrogant Worms
  • The verses of "Sing For Me" by The Fiery Furnaces
  • "Two Kinds Of People" by The Magnetic Fields, albeit with an extra syllable on lines 2 and 4 of the first stanza.
  • Much of Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages" (more famously Covered Up by The Byrds)
  • "Old Polina"
  • Many Irish folk, pub, and rebel songs, including:
  • "The Scotsman"
  • "Tight Fittin' Jeans" by Conway Twitty
  • "Joy to the World" and many of Isaac Watts' other psalm "translations"
  • The original Pokémon theme song.
  • Older Than Steam: The Scottish Psalter of 1650 sets the biblical Psalms to Common Metre.note  It's here. While the Scottish Psalter didn't invent Common Metre, it is the reason that it's considered "Common" — 149 of the 150 psalms (including Psalm 119, in 22 separate parts) are written in Common Metre.note  Poor scansion is the natural result in many cases. The Psalter also had a wide variety of Common Metre tunes which could be used with any of the psalms; standard publishing practice for this and other metrical psalters, even today, is to divide the book in half horizontally, essentially binding two separate books together, the upper with music and the lower with the words.
  • The verses of "The Mummers Dance" by Loreena McKennitt
  • "Oh Susanna"
  • All of the Sorting Hat's songs in the Harry Potter series.
  • "I Just Can't Wait to be King" from The Lion King (1994)
  • "The Rains of Castamere" from A Song of Ice and Fire is metered this way, with a couple of anapaestic substitutions.
  • Emilie Autumn's "The Ballad of Mushroom Down" from Your Sugar Sits Untouched
  • The Thunder Song from Ted
  • This poem from Reddit's Poem_for_your_sprog.
  • The ballad "The Raven King" in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
  • "Half a Heart Tattoo" by Jennifer Hanson, but only the first half of each verse.
  • "She Don't Love Nobody" by the Desert Rose Band is a variant: the eight-syllable lines are iambic, but the six-syllable ones are trochaic.
  • The title song in the Garfield and Friends episode "Picnic Panic", but only the verses (the chorus sung by the ants uses a different meter).
  • "She's Going Home with Me" by Travis Tritt
  • Many songs from the American labor movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including "Joe Hill", "Which Side Are You On", and "Solidarity Forever".
  • "The Thing" by Phil Harris.
  • "What Was I Scared Of?" by Dr. Seuss
  • Roald Dahl:
  • "I'm My Own Grandpa"
  • "The Crawl" by Spirit of the West
  • "Yankee Doodle"
  • "Auld Lang Syne"
  • "The Lumberjack Song" from Monty Python's Flying Circus, minus the chorus. Also "If I Were Not in the C.I.D.".
  • The verses of Mark Dinning's "Teen Angel"
  • "They're Hanging Me Tonight" by Marty Robbins
  • "The St. James Infirmary"
  • "The Wind That Shakes The Barley"
  • "Casey at the Bat"
  • "Casabianca"

    Songs in Common Meter Double 
  • "O Little Town of Bethlehem" is almost common meter double (the third line has only 13 syllables instead of 14), but it can easily be sung to any common meter or common meter double melody. Many non-American congregations sing it to the melody "Forest Green", which is easily adapted to other hymns in common meter double.
  • "Ghost Riders in the Sky"
  • The verses of "Rocky" by Dickey Lee (or Austin Roberts)
  • "Beer Gut" and "Dear Mr. Governor" by Da Yoopers (verses)
  • "Queen of the Silver Dollar", written by Shel Silverstein and most famously recorded by Dave & Sugar
  • "Faster Horses (The Cowboy and the Poet)" by Tom T. Hall is almost common meter double, but the last line is only 10 syllables instead of 14.
  • "Last Dollar (Fly Away)" by Tim McGraw is common meter double on the verses.
  • "Every Second" by Collin Raye is common meter double on the verses.
  • "No News" by Lonestar is common meter double on the verses, except for the "ooh, no news" at the end.
  • The first verse of "Lose My Mind" by Brett Eldredge.
  • "Chains" by Patty Loveless (verses)
  • "The Night's Too Long", by Lucinda Williams and covered up by Patty Loveless (verses)
  • Many songs from The American Civil War, including "Marching through Georgia" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" (verses) on the Union side, and "I'm a Good Ol' Rebel" on the Confederate side.
  • "Sink the Bismarck" by Johnny Horton.

    Common Meter Tune-Swapping 
  • "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" has been sung to the tune of "The House of the Rising Sun"; there's a recording on one of Bob Rivers' Christmas albums.
    • Gospel group The Blind Boys of Alabama recorded a version of "Amazing Grace" set to this tune. It works but some may find the Mood Dissonance confusing.
    • "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" is another hymn that has been sung to this tune, and it is similarly jarring when this is done.
    • "I heard the Voice of Jesus Say" also fits, but is often sung to "Kingsfold" composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams
  • It has been demonstrated—probably from a safe distance—to Marines that their hymn, "From the Halls of Montezuma", can be sung to the "Gilligan's Island" theme.
  • "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" is not in Common Meter, but it's just close enough to make it one of the more amusing tunes to sing "Amazing Grace" to. (For maximum effectiveness, at the "wimoweh" parts, say "amazing grace" instead.)
  • Adam Hills once suggested that, to keep the Australian national anthem relevant, we keep the lyrics and sing them to the tune of "Working Class Man". He then demonstrated. Awesomely.
  • It has been pointed out that any Emily Dickinson poem can be sung to "The Yellow Rose of Texas": the phenomenon gets a mention in a fifth-season Babylon 5 episode, and also features in Sharyn McCrumb's Zombies of the Gene Pool, where a Hillybilly folk singer (with a Ph.D.) mentions that he did exactly this to fool a visiting scholar. It was also discussed in Head of the Class. Dickinson poems can be sung to the Gilligan's Island theme, as well, but don't bring it up in a literature class!
  • Some of the best "One Song To The Tune Of Another" rounds on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue use two songs in Common Meter. (But not all; in fact, some rounds have deliberately chosen songs with completely different meters to make it more difficult). Clue regular Barry Cryer used "Amazing Grace to the tune of Rising Sun" as part of his musical double act with Ronnie Golden for a while after singing it on the show.